In Boston, Mountain Goats draw from religious ideas on secular songs

It’s hard to talk about music and religious experiences without sounding grandiose. We think of religious themes as being epic and religious experiences as being life-changing. But if spirituality is about connecting with some kind of animating principal, about engaging matters of the soul, that can happen on a small scale, too.

The Mountain Goats make music that hooks into the piece of us that craves collective spiritual experiences. While their songs aren’t always explicitly about religion, they do tend to take stories of individual suffering and make them applicable on a broad scale. And that’s not so different from what the Bible does.

The band’s most recent album, “The Life of the World to Come,” which they are currently touring to promote, takes its song titles and inspiration from Bible verses. It tells stories of the hard lessons you can learn from the Bible.

If you don’t know their music, or the way they perform, this all might sound a little dreary. It’s not. One of the great joys of being a part of a concert by the Mountain Goats is the exuberance with which John Darnielle, Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster go at it. The group performs songs that are drawn from and engender passion. It’s music that reminds you of your full-bodied warm-bloodedness.

Sunday’s concert in Boston’s beautiful Wilbur Theatre was no exception.

Reasons you should make it your business never to miss a Mountain Goats concert if you can possibly help it:

1. The songs.  One of the particular strengths of the Mountain Goats is their proclivity for writing songs about difficult situations, emotions and relationships intelligently. These are not songs riddled through with easy fixes and clichés.  The writing is strong and smart and often sardonic and funny.

2. The anecdotes. Darnielle is a storyteller. You learn things when he talks between songs. During Sunday’s show, he told the audience about Dennis Brown’s death, the academic treatment of “The Body” as compared to the lived experience of being chronically ill and about radicals in the Bible.

3. They love playing. They are exuberant and engaged. It’s infectious to be in the presence of musicians who so clearly love what they do.

4. The community. Mountain Goats performances feel transcendent: you are at once wrapped up in the joy of the band playing, the messages of the songs – often about living through suffering – and the sense that you are part of something larger than yourself. Darnielle often starts his better-known songs by inviting the audience to sing, as he did on Sunday with the perennial favorites “This Year” and “No Children.” There’s a collective intimacy to the experience. At a Mountain Goats concert, you feel loved.

Toronto’s Final Fantasy opened with a set of beautiful, intricately constructed songs (including such elements as Owen Pallett singing through the pickup in his violin, rather than through a microphone, and Thomas Gill whistling like a bird).

Pallett returned to play a number of songs with Darnielle (who had a solo interlude in the middle of the Mountain Goats set).  A highlight was a phenomenal interpretation of “Going to Bristol” with Darnielle singing (and dancing quite happily) and Pallett on violin.

— Text by Meghan Maguire Dahn, photo by Chrissy Piper

Set list
1 Samuel 15:23
Old College Try
Cotton
Psalms 40: 2
Isaiah 45: 23
Deuteronomy 2: 10
Enoch 18: 14
Genesis 30: 3
From TG&Y (solo)
Blueberry Frost (solo)
Mole (solo)
Dance Music (solo)
Going to Bristol (Darnielle and Pallett)
Hebrews 11: 14
Quito
Song for Dennis Brown
Genesis 3: 23
This Year
Encore
Ezekiel 7 And The Permanent Efficacy Of Grace
Romans 10: 9
No Children (w/ Pallett on piano)

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